I fall back against my front door, slamming it shut. I’m exausted. I slide across the new cranked barrel bolt that the nice locksmith assured me would keep out any would-be eccentric and possibly psychotic intruders. It took me over 2 hours just to work out where Meatloaf and Burnie were hiding and to tempt them out with a packet of dreamies. We’re good though. Everything’s back to normal, and that means that I can start focussing on our next match – Away at US Créteil-Lusitanos.
Les Béliers are in a sticky patch of form at the minute. Having opened the season with a loss at Strasbourg, they won 4 on the bounce in all competitions but have since lost 4 on the bounce, including twice against Bourg-en-Bresse in the cup and league. Still, they were one of the favourites for relegation before the season started and they’re currently sitting pretty in 13th. I’ll be sticking with Project: Meatloaf Mk II for this one but I’ll need to make a personnel change. After coming off at half time against ESTAC Troyes, Ruben Aguilar has been ruled out for 2 weeks with a twisted ankle.
It just so happens that the yellow card he picked up in that first half took him to 3 in his last 10 games, which means he’s suspended for this game anyway. I’m not saying he got booked deliberately… Wink… But it’s a happy coincidence all the same. Also banned for this one is Abdoulaye Sissako, who came on as a sub against Troyes and also picked up a booking. So coming in at right back today is Issa Samba, a man that I’ve not seen too much of so far aside from in our Cup defeat against GFC Ajaccio. Also, I’ve made a decision regarding Phil Foden and that decision is this: Even though he’s undoubtedly been our worst player so far this season, I’m going to give him a run of games. My reasoning is that this is all new to Phil: The regular competitive matches, playing off the right, being in a foreign country. He’s been a reserve player his whole career so far and maybe a run in a professional team will jump start him. If it doesn’t then at least I’ll have tried.
The first real chance for either team comes just before the 20 minute mark, when Hicham Aidir slips a pass through for Foden. He strokes the ball towards goal with his weaker right foot but the shot’s easy for Descamps to catch. I actually wonder if he heard me talking before the match because he goes very close after 40 minutes with a free kick from just outside the area. He slams it against the angle between post and crossbar as we continue to knock on the USCL door. Just before the break, Doucouré breaks up a half hearted attack by the hosts and starts one of our own. The ball gets up to Aidir and he lays it off for who else but Phil Foden, who turns, lashes the ball goalwards and it cracks against the bar again. To be fair to him, he’s unlucky not to be on the scoresheet.
We head back out for the second half and within minutes, USCL are the ones threatening. Buaillon’s corner is nodded on by Caddy at the near post, headed back across goal by Niakaté at the far post and volleyed against the underside of the bar at point-blank range by Zélateur-Pinau. The ball hits the line, bounces off Hikem’s foot and is cleared by Doucouré as I wipe the sweat from my brow. We go on the counter after that and with 20 minutes to go we’re still tied up at 0-0. I bring on Zoun for Adama Ba and stick him on the right, with Foden moving across to the left. Aidir will be a target man in the middle and we’ll go direct to him as we continue to try to find the breakthrough. Within seconds we almost see results when Soumahoro passes long to Aidir on the left wing. Aidir strides powerfully towards goal and shoots, but drags his shot wide of the far post.
I bring on Tirard for Foden for the last 10 minutes in the hopes that an out and out left winger will provide a better outlet, but Tirard offers nothing. The match ends goalless.
As disappointed as I am that we weren’t able to score, a draw is probably what both teams deserve from this one. Foden was unlucky not to score, but then so was Zélateur-Pinau. Although granted Foden hit the bar twice from 20 yards and Zélateur-Pinau hit it once from 2. Anyway, let’s move on quickly.
AC Ajaccio are next up, not to be confused with GFC Ajaccio who beat us in the Coupe de la Ligue. We’re currently 2nd behind the surprising early league leaders Bourg-en-Bresse, who were predicted to finish in lower midtable. We’re 3 points behind them and Ajaccio are 2 points behind us in 3rd, so it’s a big match.
In the run up to the match I call Phil Foden into my office and let him know that I’ve been less than impressed with him so far and that he needs to buck his ideas up. Thankfully he takes my criticism well, promising that he can improve and be an important part of my team.
I’m not making any changes at all for this one. Aguilar’s still out but Samba gave a decent showing against Créteil, so I’m happy to keep him in place. I’m getting good performances from the rest of the team too so I’m going to leave the lineup alone for the time being. I see a surprising name on the opposition teamsheet though: Benjamin Valette starts for AC Ajaccio. The lad who was probably my brightest midfield talent at the start of the Summer was sold to Marseille, who’ve sent him out on loan to our opponents. Let’s show him that he shouldn’t have been so quick to demand a transfer away from Auxerre.
We look lively in the first couple of minutes and while latecoming fans are still taking their seats we put together a brilliant move that ends with Aidir teeing up Adama Ba, who catches the ball beautifully and whacks it against the far post. With 6 minutes gone Aidir sets Phil Foden away down the right, but he’s perhaps overly eager to impress me and shoots with his weaker right foot from a narrow angle, sending the ball into the sidenetting.
20 minutes later, Samba gets some space in the final third on the right wing and chips a cross in. Pavlovic heads it away but only as far as Lamine Fomba, who takes a touch and tries an audacious outside-of-the-foot shot from 20 yards, which – Any guesses? – Comes back off the underside of the bar. Bloody hell, if only hitting the woodwork counted as a goal, eh? Sensing that we’re the better team after our early play we push on slightly, looking to control.
With seconds to go before half time, Fomba hoofs the ball into the air towards the right wing. Aidir controls it well and cuts inside onto his trusty left foot, continuing to run to the edge of the box. When he gets towards the centre he lashes a shot at goal, but Ajaccio captain Riffi Mandanda, younger brother of Steve, parries it well. Ba keeps the ball in though and we keep plugging away. Ba sends a cross in, it’s headed away, sent back in, controlled by Joël, laid off for Ba who chips it in again and Aidir volleys it home. Finally. I was beginning to think we wouldn’t score again for the rest of the season.
We drop back to a standard mentality at half time and within 2 minutes of the second half we’ve doubled our advantage. A well worked move from a throw in sees Foden pass inside to Joël, who squares it across to the penalty spot, where Ba’s waiting to clip the ball into the bottom corner. This is more like it. I can barely remember the sound of the ball hitting the bloody woodwork.
I give Mike Kakuba 20 minutes in place of Doucouré as I want to keep him as match fit as possible and with 10 minutes to go Zoun replaces Joël and takes the right wing, while Phil Foden drops back into midfield. With just a few minutes to play Ajaccio pull one back through a well struck free kick from Prince Vincent, but it’s too little too late. The match ends 2-1 to Auxerre.
Is it annoying to lose your clean sheet in the closing stages? Yes, of course it is. Sometimes the positives outweigh the negatives though and this is one of those times. Solid performances throughout the team, including Phil Foden, quality performances from Adama Ba and Joël especially and what’s most pleasing of all is that this was billed as a high pressure game. I saw zero nerves from this Auxerre team today. This is a team of winners. I’m a very happy man tonight.